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Love in Buddhism

Walpola Piyananda Thera

Dharma Vijaya Buddhist Vihara, 1990

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Part II :

Illustrations and practice of love and compassion



Aspects of Lovingkindess and Compassion
as shown in the Pali Text Tradition.


Lovingkindess, or "metta", and compassion, or "karuna", are two of the "divine dwellings" of human beings according to the teachings of the Buddha. They are the cornerstone of Buddhist ethics, and, in the Buddhism of Sri Lanka, Thailand, Burma, Laos, and Cambodia, "metta" is one of the most important methods of Buddhist meditation.

Everywhere in the records of the Buddha’s teachings, in whatever language, stories of the Buddha’s limitless love and compassion abound. The Buddha’s compassion was extended even to such extreme cases as that of Angulimala; but it applied equally to simple people who needed help. The following stories illustrate different aspects if the Buddha’s love and compassion for all sentient beings.



Sunita was a teenager in a family of scavengers in Rajagaha. His road-sweeping job barely covered the most basic expenses. A house, medicine, even clothes were beyond his means. He slept beside the road. He couldn’t even mix with other people because he was an untouchable. When high caste people came by, he had to get completely of the road so that even his shadow would not defile another, or he would be scolded, even beaten until he bled. He had no education and no chance to follow religious practices.

One day before dawn, he was already out sweeping up and carrying away the trash from the street. He was sweaty and covered with dirt as his carried the rubbish in baskets to be disposed, wearing his one small piece of cloth.

Suddenly, just at dawn, he saw the Buddha coming along the road with a great crowd of monks following. As they moved towards him, his heart filled with joy as well as fear. There was a long wall behind him, so he had to place to get out of the way. He stood his broom against the wall and stood glued to the wall, joining his palm in respect to the Buddha.

The Buddha approached him and spoke to him kindly, saying, "Dear friend, would you like to join us?"

Joy welled up in Sunita. He could hardly speak. No one had ever treated him this way before or spoken to him kindly.

When he was finally able to answer, he cried, "O, most venerable sir! I have never received such a kind word. If you would accept such a filthy, miserable scavenger as me, I will most gladly leave this work and become a monk."

Then and there the Buddha ordained him and took him along with the other monks. At the vihara he gave him a meditation object through which Sunita became arahat. People of all ranks respected him and paid him homage when he taught them the way of attainment.

In regards to such persons, the Buddha taught:

Everyone’s tears and blood are the same color. By birth no one is of high or low caste. By their actions people become high or low. The water of each river has its own name, but upon reaching the ocean it is all one. Likewise, then any sort of person enters the order, he becomes one with the sangha. (18)



The Buddha’s Awakening made his compassion and love boundless, and he was able ever ready to extend them even to those in mortal danger.

Once there was a boy by the name of Sopaka. When he was only seven years old, his father passed away his mother remarried a man who was very cruel and unkind. The stepfather always scolded the boy and beat him. After some time, a brother was born. One evening the little boy began to cry in his cradle. The stepfather thought it was due to something Sopaka had done, so he squeezed the elder brother’s ear and gave him a blow. When Sopaka began to cry, his brother became afraid and cried too. Sopaka was afraid the stepfather would hit him again.

Sopaka’s mother was not home at the time, so there was nothing to stop the stepfather’s rage. Hearing Sopaka’s sobs, he came to him with a rope to tie him up. Finally he found himself in a forest cemetery, where many foulsmelling cadavers were strewn around.

The stepfather caught up with the cemetery, and tied him to one of the dead bodies. Sopaka cried out, begging his father not to leave him tied up. The cruel man turned a deaf ear and went back home.

As the night grew darker, Sopaka’s fear increased. He heard the cries of jackals, tigers, leopards, and other animals, and his own sobs became louder.

Meanwhile, his mother had returned home, and couldn’t understand what had become of her first-born. The husband said nothing, so she set out to look for Sopaka. Of course, she couldn’t find him, then she became more and more desperate, and began to cry. She ran through the streets of Savatthi asking everyone if they had seen her son, but no one could help her. Finally an old man told her there was only one person who could tell her about her son. That was the Buddha, who at that time was at the Jetavana monastery. He told her the Buddha knew all, past, present, and future. The poor distraught mother went to the monastery and told the Buddha about her missing child and her husband’s cruelty to the child. The Buddha told the woman to go home and return in the morning to see him.

At midnight, with the power of his lovingkindness, the Buddha saw that Sopaka was at the cemetery, and went to him. Sopaka saw a soothing light as the Buddha approached him and spoke:

"Child Sopaka, don’t be afraid! I will save you. I am the Buddha, your venerable father."

The Buddha bent over the putrid, decaying corpse to which Sopaka was bound, with its intestines thrown about, flesh scooped out, and bodily fluids discharging. As he loosened the fetters one by one, he spoke soothingly to the boy.

"Child, I came in search of you. I have come to your aid. I will soon set you free."

The Buddha stroked the youngster’s head and led him to a stream, where he bathed him in pure water. Then he took him to the monastery, gave him some food to eat and clothes to wear, and consoled him.

The boy was so exhausted that he fell into a deep sleep. The Buddha called his attendant Ananda, who was waiting close by.

"Ananda, I saved the life of this poor boy who had been thrown into the cemetery and bound to a corpse. I bathed him and brought him here. See, Ananda, how well he sleeps. The supreme happiness that a man can earn is to help a helpless being like this and make him happy. Now lift him and take him to your room. Give him bedding in a suitable place."

Early the next morning, Sopaka’s mother again came to the monastery. The Buddha spoke kindly to her:

"Don’t worry, sister. Your son is safe. Here he is."

The mother was filled with joy at the sight of her son. She asked the Buddha to allow him to remain in the monastery, and gave her permission for Sopaka to join the order. (19)



While some stories like the above seem to involve powers particular to one as developed as a Buddha, there are also many instances in which the Buddha’s compassion and love were expressed in the normal, though more than usual, language and action of normal human beings.

Patacari was the daughter of a banker in the town of Savatthi. When she was grown up, she fell in love with one of her family’s servant. Of course, her family wanted her to amrry someone of her own rank. But when they tried, she ran away with her lover. They married and settled in a hamlet.

When she was expecting a child, she told her husband she wanted to return to her parents. Since her husband was afraid, so he kept finding reasons not to go. Finally, one day when she was alone, she left word with the neighbours and set out for her parents’ house by herself. When her husband found out, he ran after her. Before she reached Savatthi, she gave birth to a son, so they all returned home to their hamlet together.

When her second child was due, she once again asked her husband to go with her to her parent, but again she finally set out on her own. Her husband soon followed. On the way, the second child was born. Soon after the birth a great storm came. Paraacari’s husband went to cut sticks and grass to make a shelter. While he was in the jungle, a snake bit him and he died.

Patacari spent the night alone, tired and wet, lying on the ground hugging her two sons. In the morning she found her husband’s dead body. Filled with sadness, she decided to go to her parents’ house. She came to a flooded river, and because she was weak and tired, could not carry both children across together. So she put the newborn on a pile of leaves on the bank, and carried the older son across. In midstream, she looked back just in time to see a huge hawk swooping down to take her newborn. In her shock, she dropped the older boy, who was carried away by the flood.

Feeling only grief, she decided to continue on to her parents’ house. When she got to Savatthi, she learned that a fire had broken out in the night, burning the house and its occupants to the ground.

Patacari lost her mind, and wandering around in circles, near naked. People drove her from their doors, until one day she arrived in Jetavana, where the Buddha was preaching the dhamma. The people around him tried to stop her from coming close, but the Buddha called her to him and talked to her. With the power of his gentleness and compassion, she got her mind back, and sat and listened to the Buddha. A man threw her his robe, and she put it on and drew closer to the Buddha. She worshipped at his feet, and told him her story. She begged for his help. He consoled her, and made her see that death comes to everyone. Then he taught her the highest truths of his teaching. When the Buddha had finished speaking, Patacari became a sotapanna and asked to be ordained as a Bhikkhuni. The Buddha accepted her.

One day, while washing her feet, she noticed how the water trickled, sometimes a short distance, and sometimes further.

She thought, just in this way do all people die, in childhood, in middle age, or old age. She became an arahat, through the compassion of the Buddha. Later she became a great teacher, and many women suffering from grief went to her for guidance and consolation. The Buddha declared her the best among the nuns who knew the Vinaya. (20)


The Buddha’s lovingkindness knew no limit of time, as shown by one of his last acts of kindness.

Now it happened that a certain wandering ascetic called Subhadda was staying near Kusinara, and when he heard that the Buddha was about to pass away, he resolved to go and see him about a certain matter before the Blessed One passed away. He was sure that the Buddha could answer his question and clear up his doubts.

So Subhadda went to the Sala tree grove, and asked Ananda whether he could see the Buddha, but Ananda said, "Enough, friend Subhadda, the Buddha is very weary. Do not trouble him."

For the second and third time, Subhadda made this request and for the second and third time, Ananda replied in the same manner.

However, the Buddha caught a word or two of the conversation between Ananda and Subhadda, and he called Ananda to him and said, "Come, Ananda. Do not keep Subhadda from seeing me. Let him come and see me. Whatever Subhadda may ask of me, he will ask from a desire for knowledge and not to annoy me. And whatever I may say in answer to his questions, he will quickly understand.

Granted permission, Subhadda approached the Buddha, asked his question, and got his answer. Finally he joined the order of monks and after earnest and he diligent effort in following the teachings became an arahant. (21)


At times the Buddha did express his compassion through very simple acts of charity. Such is the story of Mahaduggata a very poor man of Benares. The citizens of Benares once invited the Buddha and his monks and went about asking people to help take care of the venerable ones. Although they were very poor, Mahaduggata and his wife gladly took the job of looking after one monk; they both worked hard to earn the necessary money and then prepared a simple meal. When the time came for the meal, it was found that upon assigning the monks to the several hosts, Mahaduggata’s house had been overlooked. The poor man wrung his hands and burst into tears, but someone pointed out to him that nobody was yet entertaining the Buddha. He therefore went to the vihara and invited the Compassionate One, who accepted the invitation, while princes and nobles waited outside wishing to conduct him to their own palaces. The Buddha ate the food prepared by Mahaduggata and his wife and thanked him.

Soon after, Mahaduggata’s fortune improved, and in fact he became rich. When it was reported to the king that he was now the wealthiest man in the city, he was appointed Treasurer. Mahaduggata built a new house and discovered many hidden treasures while digging the foundations. With the money from these discoveries, he entertained the Buddha and his monks for seven days, and, through his selfless actions, after death was reborn in a higher existence. (22)


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Computer typesetting: Jenny Truong - Ngoc Han

Update: 01-04-2001


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